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10 Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

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With the new school year just around the corner, we’re providing tips for the fall shopping season, including knowing when rain checks may apply, when “free” offers may cost you, and ways to avoid scams.

Check the exclusions and limitations of an offer. Exclusions and limitations must be clearly disclosed in advertisements, including online, so review terms and conditions carefully before you go to the store or make a purchase.

Know that used items may not be sold as new. Refurbished or reconditioned products must be properly labeled. For example, a company that sells electronics may not advertise or sell a computer as new when, in fact, it has been used or refurbished.

Find out if rain checks apply. If a seller advertises a product at a certain price but sells out of that product, you may have the right to a rain check. However, sellers are not required to provide rain checks if they clearly disclose the number of goods available at that price or if they clearly state that no rain checks will be given.

Be cautious with trial offers. Purchases sometimes come with free trial offers, such as free anti-virus software with the purchase of a computer, but signing up may subject you to additional purchases and payments. Trial offers vary, and some may be difficult to cancel or they may automatically renew. Always remain cautious when a trial offer requires you to provide your credit card number up front. Even if you’re not charged immediately, you may be charged later.

Know that free means free. Under Ohio law, the cost of a “free” item cannot be passed on to the consumer by raising the regular price of the good or service. For instance, if a pair of shoes is normally sold for $50, a seller cannot run a buy-one-get-one-free sale and increase the cost of the shoes to $100. 
Understand return policies before you buy. In Ohio, sellers can choose to set their own return policies, including policies of “no returns,” but they must clearly disclose the policy before you check out. Watch for any “restocking fees,” especially on electronic items. Ohio law does not prohibit these fees, but the business should clearly disclose any restocking fees before the purchase is made.

Keep your receipts. Maintaining a complete record of a sale will help you handle problems that may arise after the purchase. Keep receipts, copies of advertisements, photos of products, and other documentation until the transaction and billing process are complete.

Stay safe online. Research websites you plan to use, and make sure a website is secure before you enter any personal information or payment details. In the web address, look for the “s” in “https” and/or a lock symbol to help ensure a website has security features. Also consider paying with a credit card, which generally gives you stronger protections to dispute unauthorized charges. 

Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can work to correct it.

Watch for scams and identity theft. Con artists operate year round. They may even run scams related to popular back-to-school items or services. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org  or 800-282-0515. Learn more at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov

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